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MAIN STORY: Nothing reflects change better than music. Bhutan’s march to progress can be seen clearly and felt deeply through its Zhungdras and Boedras, Rigars and Lusars.

Narratives of changing Bhutanese music

MAIN STORY: Nothing reflects change better than music. Bhutan’s march to progress can be seen clearly and felt deeply through its Zhungdras and Boedras, Rigars and Lusars.
Today, Bhutan’s traditional music like Zhungdra and Boedra are increasingly fading away. Even Rigsar that sounded death knell of sort to Zhungdra and Boedra is losing its popularity. Rappers and rock bands have taken over.
At Mojo Park on Saturday is alternative rock band, Misty Terrace, performing their version on Namkhoe Namkhoe, a popular rigsar song by Kinley Tshering Toeb. The six-member band is known for their melodious contemporary Bhutanese songs such as Yonphula, Choe lu Ta Di Deybi Sey and Nge Thimphu. The band is dressed in their best traditional gho to entertain the tsechu crowd of Thimphu.
Audience go decades back with the rhythm and music of the song. Several Dzongkha original and cover songs follow. And then there are Bollywood songs.
The lead singer of the band, Tandin Wangchuk, said the band is still learning how to come up with original songs and modern tunes.

kezang dorji
Kezang Dorji performing at Clock Tower, Thimphu

“We still don’t have a concrete music industry. A singer doesn’t get a break unless he sings in movies and this needs to be changed,” Tandin Wangchuk said. “Singers needs to be given the platform and support from relevant agencies.”
Apart from performing gigs in Mojo Park and other events, Tandin Wangchuk, said the band can’t sustain on their own.
“We need to look for other alternatives,” he said. “There’s a long way to go to create a strong Bhutanese music industry where a singer or a band can survive without other jobs.”
Misty Terrace is made up of high school friends and college mates. The bands listens and draws inspiration from international artists and bands such as Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Coldplay, Owl City, Oasis and Secondhand Serenade among others.
The band’s aim is to write songs that appeal to wider audience and also to revive old songs by singing in contemporary voice and style.

traditional arttist
Contemporary artists with traditional instruments (file picture)

But change can be felt at a much deeper level. Today, Bhutanese songs are not about flowers and beautiful girls. They talk about modern problems, hopes and aspirations.
Expressing himself through the lyrics of his songs is Kezang Dorji, 26, who is one of the up and coming rappers in the country today. Kezang’s songs talk about his experiences. His songs such as Charo and Ama Kadrinchey are based on true events concerning his life.
The bespectacled rapper said the song Charo was written in memory of a very close friend who passed away while in college.
“Every line in these songs is true and has happened in real. The songs mean a lot to me,” the 26-year-old rapper said. “They are more than just a song for me.”
And Kezang added: “I make songs about what I believe in and I will continue to do so.”
Kezang’s another popular song, Gachibey, from a commercial movie, gives inspiration to youth. It urges young people to face the challenges boldly to achieve their dreams.
Kezang had to face a lot of hurdles in life which he tells them through his songs.
“My family had a very hard life. My parents separated when I was about six years old. My siblings and I were raised by our single mother with whatever she could earn from weaving,” Kezang Dorji said. “Conditions worsened that I even thought of quitting school at one point of time. Coming from a broken and a disadvantaged family, my childhood had been fraught with tough times.”
Kezang thinks his experience has become his strength. “I don’t feel scared of things that scare others as I have been through worse.” Music was the only thing that gave him some solace.
Kezang’s said that he learnt to rap following Eminem. He first saw Eminem’s music video in 2005, which was like love at first sight. He also followed rappers like 50 Cent.
“Although, I did not fully understand the lyrics of the songs, I could relate to what the song said,” he said. “And knowing that rappers like Eminem and 50 Cent also came from separated families and that their lives were also filled with challenges before they became successful inspired me to keep moving in my life. Later on, my own life would inspire me to write my songs.”
Today, organisations and private companies invite Kezang when there is a celebration where he performs the songs, which mostly conveys message about drugs use, youth crime and unemployment.
“I hope as an upcoming artist, I can convey strong messages through the songs and help individuals see a better path to lead in their lives,” Kezang said. “I hope to connect youth with my songs and address issues concerning them.”
Apart from M-Studio, which is popular among many youth today, Atsara Entertainment is one such private firm that provides platform for young artists. New and old singers and bands come to record their songs and videos with the firm bringing in a new generation of artists in the market.
Sonam Lhendup Tshering, who is a director, and music director Jimmy Wangyal Tshering, founded Atsara Entertainment in June of 2012. Atsara Entertainment promotes bands and singers by giving them opportunity to perform in different events and gigs.
“The music industry is booming but there are complications between traditional and modern Bhutanese music. We have different audience,” he said.
Jimmy Wangyal Tshering says that today singers can take up singing and performing as a career since every venue pays the singers for each performance.
Young singers can then earn their own salary and help themselves through school and college. Such situations also help us keep children and teenagers off the streets, by being in the studio instead, Jimmy Wangyal Tshering said. “However, we face challenges from certain quarters of the society. For example, Bhutanese modern music and songs made with a fusion of English rap are discouraged. Because of that, competing on an international level seems like a long way to go from here.”
Added Jimmy Wangyal Tshering: “Somehow, we have managed to entertain people outside of Bhutan, and we are encouraged.”
Atsara Entertainment also makes and promotes music videos along with songs. The firm has promoted singers and bands like Upsurge, Empire Black, Timers, Heat of Summer and Sonam Wangchen among others.
By Thinley Zangmo

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